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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Anita Mixon


This paper explores how hospice website discourses about end-of-life services provide insight into the construction of death. Extending Segal’s (2005) definition of the rhetoric of dying, I argue for a theory of perimortem rhetoric (PMR), or, a rhetoric that constructs around death—implicating death symbolically without explicitly stating the word death. In borrowing common medical terminology, “perimortem” refers to around the time of death. Perimortem rhetoric, then, refers to rhetoric about death; rhetoric that speaks around, but not directly about, the concept of death. Perimortem rhetoric broadens the scope of the rhetoric of dying by revealing what is not spoken about. In this project, I argue that hospices market themselves using perimortem rhetoric to effectively commercialize end of life services, while also seeking to avoid the stigma of death commercialization. Perimortem rhetoric makes the advertising palatable for a general audience, but also creates a potentially problematic depiction of the scope of end-of-life care and the purpose of hospice. The goal of this paper is to elaborate on how perimortem rhetoric operates, both discursively and visually, such that individuals looking for end of life services may not be swayed by slick advertising but instead understand how perimortem rhetoric eludes realistic portrayals of death.

To situate the applied rhetorical analysis, Foucault’s (1976) theory of biopolitics and Mbembe’s (2003) theory of necropolitics were used as a lens of analysis for discursive text. Pereleman and Olbrects-Tyteca’s (1969) theory of presence and absence framed the visual analysis. Data collection produced 481 pages of text, which were combed through multiple times to highlight key themes and identify exemplars. Twenty-seven pages of analysis were generated about the data, with over 60 standout textual exemplars and 352 images. Five textual perimortem themes and three visual perimortem themes emerged from the data.

Both discursive and visual representations of dying, as constructed on hospice websites, function to shape both emotional and material expectations of hospice care and dying. By shifting rhetorical focus to medical care and happy patient care imagery, hospice websites avoid direct references to death and dying to commodify their services. This PMR can spare the intense emotional reaction to death but could leave a dying person and their loved ones unprepared for the actual death event.

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